SUCCESS STORY
Crucial Music

How Crucial Music eliminated paper checks & automated royalty payouts

100%

of artist payments made electronically

75%

reduction in fees paid for PayPal services

Eliminated

bounced, returned, or lost checks
Crucial Music
Company Info
Industry
Music royalties, music sync licencing
HQ Location
Studio City, California
Customer Since
2019
Recipients
Recording artists, musicians, rights holders
Payout Countries
Global

Crucial Music pitches its catalog of independent artists to sync opportunities in film, tv, and ads. Using Trolley, Crucial Music turned its payments from “check is in the mail” to a fully online process: sending royalty payments, automating tax recording, and providing artists ongoing, real-time transparency into payments.

Think about the last movie you watched. If it was horror, there was creepy instrumental music. If it was a romance, there were ballads. If it was an action flick, there was a rock filled chase scene.

Music is vital for setting a film’s tone. Music supervisors license music for sync—or music set to images—to underline the film’s tone. The artists who create that music are passionate, but the logistics of tracking royalty payments they’re owed is often lacking.

The team at Crucial Music, an online music licensing catalog for independent artists worldwide, are working to change that flaw.
Tanvi from Crucial Music

"With thousands of payees worldwide, staying compliant with the IRS’s 1099 and 1042 regulations was time-consuming.

Trolley makes this and sending payouts easy, and allows us to spend more time on our core business."

Tanvi Patel – CEO & Owner of Crucial Music
Crucial Music has just four full-time and two contract/part-time employees but boasts a catalog of more than 17,000 songs. Tanvi Patel, CEO and Owner, notes that Crucial has licensed music to Oscar-winning films like Gravity and Captain Phillips, and to popular television productions like Pam & Tommy, How I Met Your Father, and Grace and Frankie.

Artists submit their music directly through Crucial Music’s website. Once the music is in the catalog, Crucial works with music supervisors and music editors to place the music in films, TV, and advertisements. Musicians retain full ownership of their music and Crucial provides full transparency into their pitch activity, placements, and royalties.

Sync licensing is a unique model with complex payout needs and Crucial Music prides itself on providing top dollar to its artists and ongoing insights into placements and royalties. But the payment process wasn’t always so easy.

The Challenge

An artist’s experience with a label, publisher or music catalog like Crucial Music is, well, crucial. A frustrating, unpredictable, or opaque onboarding and payment process can hurt artist retention.

Artists need insight into placement of their works and what they’re owed. This is complicated with royalties as there may be no payments one month and a flurry of payments the next. Prior to 2013, Patel and her team produced this manually.

From launch in 2006 to 2013, each artist’s placements and amounts owed were tracked in a spreadsheet. Every month, they sent each artist a copy with their physical check. Not only was this time-consuming for Patel, but it also meant artists couldn’t track their account in real time.

In 2013, Crucial built an online royalty system where artists could review placements and download their statements at any time (which eventually would allow for a seamless integration of Trolley in 2019).

“Our artists upload their music online, it only makes sense they get paid online, too. That seamless online experience shows we are a forward-thinking, technology-based business that values its artists.”

Even with the tech upgrade, check delivery was still a nightmare. Postal mail offered inconsistent timelines. Patel and her team spent hours following up on uncashed or returned checks. Though it cost about $1 per check for printing and postage, Patel didn’t want to move payments online because of the heightened security necessary to store banking information.

Once Crucial Music started working with international artists, Patel introduced PayPal for international payments. “It could be very painful. Our account was frequently locked and I had to get on the phone every time we made payments. We started paying quarterly per our agreement terms instead of monthly because it got so unmanageable,” Patel recalls.

It took Patel and Joy Stringer, VP of A&R at Crucial Music, two painstaking days a month to verify records, write checks, use PayPal, confirm addresses, and track tax records.

The Solution

“It was the first and only time I responded to a cold email,” Patel recalls about hearing from Trolley in 2019. “They have an encrypted payment platform, integrate with PayPal, and handle tax forms. I thought ‘Wow, this is a silver bullet.’”

Trolley also manages W-8/W-9 form collection so labels can link the details of each payment and consolidate royalties for each specific artist. From there, Trolley automates the production and distribution of 1099 and 1042-S forms.

It was music to Patel’s ears. “I really wasn’t aware that there was such a thing. Had Trolley not approached me, I probably would have kept doing what I was doing.”

Now, Crucial’s artists provide their information through the Trolley widget and track past and upcoming payments through the portal. Plus, automated emails keep them connected to Crucial, adding up to a huge experience improvement.

The Results

With Trolley, Crucial Music now pays artists 100% electronically. Artists receive an automated email that royalties are ready to pay, then receive the funds three to five days after Patel disburses them.

New artists get an automated email to provide banking or PayPal information through the Trolley widget. Once onboarded, artists can log in to see a full dashboard of their payments for the year and the status of upcoming payments.

“What I gained from the Trolley process is the tax forms, foreign tax withholding, and tax reporting. And we don’t have to worry about storing bank information or follow up with checks that bounced, got lost, weren’t cashed, or were returned,” Patel says.

“Trolley gives our artists flexibility and payment transparency. With that knowledge, they always know when they will get paid. This lightened our customer service lift, since artists had all the information in one place.”

The Future

In 2021, Crucial Music paid out more than $500,000 to hundreds of artists. Currently, Patel and her team are working on a website where artists can submit cover versions of popular songs, with Trolley handling artist payouts and tax forms.

“Our investment in Trolley was absolutely worthwhile,” Patel affirms. “It simplifies tax recording, the payment process, and it provides our artists with transparency into their payments, keeping our customer service lift low. It upped our game and doing everything electronically demonstrates that we are professional and forward-thinking.”

“Once we spoke to the Trolley tech team, I knew it couldn’t backfire. We jumped on board and haven’t looked back.”

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